EU cancels think-tank meeting over Russia-Belarus gas compromise
( RIA Novosti ) - The European Commission sees no need to convene a session of its gas coordination group now that the Russian-Belarusian gas dispute has been partially resolved, the EU's executive branch said Friday.
The European Commission said Thursday it would gather its expert group, which includes government experts and representatives of fuel producers and consumers from EU member states, next week after Russian energy giant Gazprom threatened Wednesday to cut its natural gas deliveries to Belarus by 45% as of August 3 over the country's outstanding debt.
Concerns that Gazprom's measure against the transit country could disrupt deliveries to Europe, where Russia meets 25% of gas needs, were alleviated Friday when Gazprom confirmed that Belarus had made a $190 million installment toward its $460 million gas debt, and gave Belarus another week to pay the debt in full.
European Commission spokesman Martin Selmayr said the commission hailed the new positive development in the talks, and that the dispute would be discussed at a regular meeting of the gas coordination group in fall.
Belarusian gas pipeline operator Beltransgaz announced the payment following a night of intense talks between its representatives and Gazprom in Moscow.
Gazprom's threat had sparked fears that Belarus could tap gas from pipelines transiting Russian gas to Europe in a replay of a bitter price dispute with Ukraine in early 2006, which affected supplies to European consumers. The dispute fueled concerns in Europe of excessive dependence on Gazprom.
Belarus's gas debt is the result of a deal reached in late 2006, which forced Minsk to pay $100 per 1,000 cu m of gas, double the 2006 tariff. Under the agreement - which also stipulated that prices for Belarus would gradually rise to European levels by 2011 - Minsk was allowed to pay just 55% of the price in the first half of the year and to settle the balance by July 23.
Belarus said it did not have funds to pay the debt as Russia had been reluctant to give a promised $1.5 billion loan. Gazprom, which recently paid Belarus $625 million for a stake in Beltransgaz - also part of the gas deal - has said Minsk has sufficient resources to pay the debt.